The Road to Čukovići

The old chalk quarry just outside of Virpazar on the road to Rijeka Crnojevića is a sheltered sun trap. Rank grassland and shrubs have not developed, perhaps because of the shallow soils and regular grazing by goats from the nearby smallholding. Hence it is floristically diverse and this, in turn, supports a range of butterflies.

A new suite of plants are coming through now with a single toothed orchid (Orchis tridentata), frequent and  elegant common speedwell (Veronica officinalis), deep red, narrow-leaved vetchling (Lathyrus setifolia) and a small colony of small blue, branched broomrape (Orobanche ramosa) on a patch of shepherd’s needle (Scandix pecten-veneris).

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Toothed orchid.

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Common speedwell.

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Narrow-leaved vetchling.

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Branched broomrape on shepherd’s needle.

The chequered blues (Scolitantides orion) were still present but common blue has become the dominant species; a mating pair were stuck fast. There was also a beautiful blue that was dark with shades of brown and green. I originally thought this was a female Idas blue (Plebejus idas) but I now realise that is germanium argus (Eumedonia eumedon) with its lovely russet colours. Swallows were collecting mud from beneath large boulders where the shade had kept the ground damp. Four rock doves, I think from the large farm up the hill, flew up but circled and landed on the rocks and waited for me to leave. Hawfinches and greenfinches called and blackbirds scolded an owl from the willows; the local buzzard mewed up the slope.

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Mating common blues.

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Geranium argus.

Up the hill, the graveyard of the small church held a pair of hawfinches cracking seeds, high in a tall juniper species (Juniperus), constantly calling with a high pitched ‘seep’ as well as the more familiar ‘tsick’. Also a small Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis) that lived in a small hole in the side of a gravestone. It was hiding in a clump of grass but doubled back and disappeared down the small hole in the concrete.  I checked it after a few minutes of chasing hawfinches and its head was poking out; I waited but it dared not venture any further.

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Balkan whip snake and its graveyard hiding place.

The chalk stream beneath the lovely old bridge at Čukovići held no snakes but the first grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae) as well as southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena) and nettle tree butterfly (Libythea celtis) on the adjacent grassy slope, still with a bright blue patch of bugle (Ajuga reptans) beloved by insects at the bottom.

I checked what appeared to be an old fish farm downstream and here found two grass snakes (Natrix natrix). One of the snakes was out in a grassy, damp field with much Aristolochia rotunda, actively chasing the marsh frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus), but the other was motionless in a beautifully curved, double figure-of-eight in the chalk stream waiting for a frog to come by.

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Grass snakes hunting in and around a chalk stream below Čukovići.

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